Boston was a good change from the rush and bustle of New York. It’s a quiet city, which I guess means less distractions for the students at Harvard and MIT which are across the river in Cambridge! The highlight for me was the Mapparium, a 10 metre high globe made of stained glass windows with the map of the world as it was circa 1935. There’s a bridge suspended through the middle of the globe through the Indian and Pacific Oceans and you get to pore over the world as it was when colonialism was still very much in fashion. The globe reveals many things which show how much has changed over the last 70 years: the full scale of the Soviet empire, the carving up of vast tracts of Africa between the European powers, a united India (before Pakistan and Bangladesh were separated out), the complete absence of Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia from the map (all come under the label of French Indochina), a China without Manchuria and so on.
The other interesting aspect of the Mapparium is its acoustic qualities. A “whispering gallery” consists of a circular wall which reflects sound waves along its surface such that sound travels a full circle back to the speaker. A whisper along the wall can be clearly heard by anyone listening along the wall’s circumference. There are many whispering galleries around the world, such as in St Paul’s Cathedral in London, or the Echo Wall in Beijing’s Temple of Heaven. However, the Mapparium is different in that speaking in any direction, since it is a full sphere, will result in the same effect. Furthermore, standing in the middle of the sphere and speaking produces the unnerving effect of hearing yourself in surround sound with startling clarity.
We also had the chance to catch up with Danny, who is on exchange at Boston College, for an enjoyable dinner. We concluded that European men seem to have a peculiar (and somewhat unsettling) habit of walking around bedrooms in underwear and socks and nothing else.
Currently enjoying a restful stopover in Montréal with the wonderfully hospitable Frances and Frances. Unfortunately the clouds have decided to follow us around and since we left New York every day has been overcast and rainy. It’s a pity really, because Montréal would otherwise be a very nice city to walk in. It really doesn’t have any “grand sights” like a castle on a hill (though it does have a chalet on a hill, which the locals call “the mountain”), but nonetheless has a certain charm to it. One aspect of this city that I find particularly charming and somewhat unique is the bilingual aspect of it (though something which I’m sure is shared by various European countries). Montréal belongs to the French-speaking province of Québec, but most locals are completely fluent in English as well (incidentally, this also means that many migrants to this city are trilingual). Signs are all in French, mostly with English written beneath in italics. Unlike France, however, locals don’t mind whether you make an attempt to talk in French or not. Anyway, hopefully the weather improves over the week. Apparently the progression of Autumn (or “Fall”, rather) means that the leaves on the deciduous trees are changing colour and thus the forests are quite a beautiful sight, but I haven’t been able to see this yet due to the constant rain.